The fight over new legislative districts is starting before new map configurations are publicly revealed.
While Republicans are in control of the process, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said, redrawing the maps based on “population not politics,” rumors are running rampant — specifically in regards to the congressional district lines in Davidson County. Republicans currently hold seven of the state’s nine congressional districts, though Republicans could carve up the Nashville-based 5th Congressional District held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and potentially secure an eighth.
At a Williamson, Inc. event in late August, U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) sounded off on the redistricting rumors.
“The primary one [rumor] is should Republicans try to split Nashville and acquire an eighth seat,” he said. “My belief is that that would be a bad idea. If you look at Atlanta and you look at Philadelphia — two cities that tried to do that — within three-to-four cycles those cities flipped. Right now we are a very comfortable seven-and-two. We can stay a very comfortable seven-and-two for 10 years or we can take some risk, and we can probably get an eight-and-one for four-six years.”
He called the eight-and-one idea “greedy.”
“That often hurts you in the long run,” he said.
During the reshuffling, Green’s 7th Congressional District could lose some or all of Williamson County, which he said he wants to continue representing. A significant portion of his campaign donations come from businesses and individual donors in Williamson County, according to campaign finance records.
Sexton, a fellow Republican and among the most powerful figures in the redistricting process, called Green’s comments “irresponsible.” He said lines are drawn on “population not politics.”
“I don’t deal with the Chicken-Little-the-sky-is-falling rumors,” Sexton said. “It’s unrealistic for Mark Green or any congressman to make demands or think that his or her district is not going to change.”
Davidson County Republican Party Chair Jim Garrett said he does not believe Davidson County will be “sliced up.” He believes when the lines are redrawn, District 5 will include all of Davidson County and all of Cheatham County, but Dickson County will no longer be a part of the district.
“I think Cheatham County is red enough to act as a balance to Davidson County,” he said.
“There are many theories, but at the end of the day, this bipartisan committee is focused on achieving those ideal numbers and what’s constitutional and balanced,” said State Rep. Sam Whitson (R-Franklin), a member of the select committee on redistricting.
Under federal and state law, lines must be redrawn every 10 years, in order to reflect changes in area populations. Tennessee’s population grew by 8.9 percent to nearly 7 million people according to data from the 2020 Census. However, the growth in population is not proportional across all 95 counties. In fact, 30 counties reported shrinking populations and 17 reported increases in population of more than 10 percent.
Despite disagreeing on most things, Cooper and Green agree on one front: Davidson County should not be split up.
Earlier this month, Cooper spoke at the state House redistricting committee’s inaugural meeting, calling on lawmakers to keep Nashville whole.
“I believe that your solemn duty is to preserve county boundaries and communities as much as you possibly can,” Cooper said. “Tennessee law forces you to keep as many counties whole as possible when you draw your own districts; you should use the same standard for congressional districts. Every county and community deserves its own unique voice in our republic whenever possible. Keeping counties whole respects the decisions that average citizens have already made to live and work in the community that they have chosen.”